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Vet on call: Punish officials in vaccine saga to protect farmers

Saturday January 25 2020

Mombasa County executive in-charge of livestock, and fisheries, Binti Omar looks on as Dr Philip Okiya vaccinates a cow against foot and mouth disease in this past photo.

Mombasa County executive in-charge of livestock and fisheries, Binti Omar looks on as Dr Philip Okiya vaccinates a cow against foot and mouth disease in this past photo. Vaccines induce immunity by introducing components of the disease-causing agent, a neutralised live agent or a killed one into the animal’s body. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA
By DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA
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I did a quick search on the internet on the use of oil-based foot and mouth disease (FMD) vaccine in the country and got a lot of eye-catching results.

They ranged from the announcement of the successful production of the vaccine by the Kenya Veterinary Vaccines Production Institute (Kevevapi) in February 2017 to the field launch by President Uhuru Kenyatta in Turkana the following month.

Prior to the field launch, the then Livestock PS Andrew Tuimur, launched the vaccine as a product of the Kevevapi at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) in February that year.

Dr Tuimur during the launch said the vaccine would be a boon to livestock producers and the government as well. It was cheaper than the water-based conventional one and would protect animals for up to one year.

Farmers would, therefore, vaccinate their cattle, sheep and goats only once a year while they are required to do so two or three times when using the water-based vaccine.

All this was really good news to farmers and animal health service providers. Personally, I was looking forward to using the product because I clearly understood its benefits. In short, this product is revolutionary in terms of FMD control and profitability of the livestock sector.

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In one of the media reports, Dr Tuimur was reported to have said that FMD costs the country Sh24 billion a year. The losses are high because the annual FMD outbreaks lead to death of animals, loss of production, use of vaccines which are useless in infected animals or animals that get infected before immunity sets in and the general treatment.

There is also the cost of veterinary services and disposal of animals that fail to thrive after recovery from the disease.Sadly, three years since the launch of the super vaccine, farmers are still struggling with the disease.

Starting from the last quarter of 2019, we have seen outbreaks of FMD in many counties, followed by the routine knee-jerk reaction of the veterinary authorities to vaccinate animals.

This response is scientific but it should never be the modus operandi in the control of diseases which have vaccines.

Animals should always be vaccinated religiously, employing a scientifically proven programme. Thanks to vaccines, the world eradicated the deadly rinderpest and Kenya followed suit.

In the last three weeks, I have received numerous enquiries from farmers on what happened to the wonder FMD vaccine.

Leon from Murang’a, who is both a farmer and a paravet, wondered whether the vaccine was a hoax. Many farmers said they had been longing for the time they would vaccinate their animals once per year at a lower cost and better protection against FMD.

SUSTAINED INTERACTION WITH DEFENCE CELLS

The science behind the vaccine is well-documented as there are also oil-based vaccines for other diseases. Vaccines induce immunity by introducing components of the disease-causing agent, a neutralised live agent or a killed one into the animal’s body.

The immunity-inducing component is called an antigen. The body defence cells interact with it and produce chemicals called antibodies that attack and neutralise the disease-causing agent every time it enters the body. This prevents the disease-causing agent from multiplying in the body leading to a disease.

Oil-based vaccines keep the antigen at the site of deposition, usually under the skin, for a much longer time than water-based ones and ensure continuous release into the body for sustained interaction with defence cells. This increases the volume of antibodies produced and therefore gives higher and longer-lasting protection.

It is sickening that – as reported by the Nation on January 22 - the initial oil-based FMD vaccine, worth Sh92 million, expired due to self-interest of the people farmers have entrusted to serve them in the Ministry of Agriculture.

From the media report and the fact that the vaccine was never availed to the market, I can only conclude that the sole public manufacturer may have lost interest in the super product because the institution is not the final decision maker on licensing of animal health products.

There are three key players in the licensing of animal health products. First, there is the product owner, who is the manufacturer, the franchise holder or the distributor. In this case the owner is Kevevapi.

Second, there is the country’s chief veterinary officer who is the Director of Veterinary Services (DVS). The role of the DVS is to scientifically assure the government and the consumers on the quality of the product and lastly, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) work is to license the use of animal health products and regulate all aspects of the products from manufacturing to distribution and the outcomes of product usage.

Farmers need answers on what happened on the highly beneficial oil-based FMD vaccine, which has been successfully used in South America to keep FMD under very strict control.

The management of the disease has made beef production and trade very successful locally and internationally in South American countries. It is a major foreign exchange earner, especially for Brazil.

Answers about the vaccine can only come from Kevevapi, DVS and VMD. In addition to the failure to provide the vaccine, the country’s economy is being denied the much needed foreign exchange.

The oil-based FMD vaccine is a product that would command good market in many livestock-producing countries in Africa.

In my opinion, withholding production and licensing of the product due to self-interest amounts to economic sabotage. This should be properly investigated and the culprits severely punished.